Cycling the Coastal Circle Route

Cycling the Coastal Circle Route

Biking the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island

A classic 500km loop up the Sunshine Coast to Savary, then over to Vancouver Island and down through Comox and Qualicum to Nanaimo and finally back to Horseshoe Bay and Vancouver. A highly customizable trip, you can choose road rides or detours onto gravel and single track, with plenty of options for camping or for packing light and staying at bed and breakfasts.

Seven days, six ferries, two islands, eight cute coastal towns, too many treats to count, and some of the year's best made memories. This is a trip we keep coming back to.

Both times we've ridden this route we started on the Sunshine Coast, but you can of course loop it in either direction. The Sunshine Coast is best explored leisurely — for the most part the highway is in the forest with few ocean views, so to experience it fully we recommend taking all the side trips you can: Gibsons, the quiet alternate to Roberts Creek, out along Redrooffs Road to Sargeant Bay, Pender Harbour, or heading to the hills on the Lower Sunshine Coast bikepacking route, which strings together a combo of single track with ATV and FSR roads. No matter which way you choose it will be hilly, so plan for lots of scenic snack stops and ocean swims. One of the joys of bicycle touring vs road tripping is that the fuel is tasty treats — the money you would normally spend on gasoline is instead funnelled into extra sandwiches and cookies. It's a pretty good deal. And for hilly routes like the Sunshine Coast here you best be laying out for plenty snacks.

Arriving on the Sunshine Coast, swing by Persephone Brewery in Gibsons before continuing on. If you're camping, head to Porpoise Bay Provincial Park the first night, and enjoy a leisurely brunch at the Basted Baker in Sechelt. Stop for swims at Sargeant Bay and the sparkling blue waters of Ruby Lake on your way to Earls Cove for the next ferry. Be sure to check the BC Ferries schedule and plan your day around it: these are not the most frequent sailings. Not that you're in any sort of rush — it's beyond easy to while away a couple extra hours swimming at Ruby Lake or riding over to the hamlet of Egmont to see the Skookumchuck Narrows.

Once you catch the ferry it's an hour of scenic sailing through the mouth of Jervis Inlet, looking for all the world like an Alaskan Cruise. Disembarking at Saltery Bay you begin the long sweaty slog up a hill, and Powell River is still a two hour ride away, where you can refuel at 32 Lakes Bakery & Cafe, grab a cold one from Townsite Brewing, go for a refreshing dip in Powell Lake, and set up camp for the night at the village campground on Willingdon Beach.

One of the singular highlights of the trip was spending two nights on Savary Island. Reported to have the warmest waters north of Mexico, Savary is an off-the-grid island of beautiful beaches, eclectic cabins, coastal meadows, and forested dunes. Only residents can bring their vehicles across, so having a bike to get around is a real bonus (though you can also rent on island).

Catch a passenger ferry in the tiny town of Lund, about a two hour's ride north of Powell River. The gateway to Desolation Sound, Lund has a small grocery store, post office, and tasty cinnamon buns and sandwiches at Nancy's Bakery on the waterfront. At the time of posting there are two ferry companies offering service to Savary: Lund Water Taxi and the Savary Island Ferry.

Spend a day biking around from beach to beach, stopping at the the Mid Island Bakery and the Sugar Shack for snacks. Savary is an ideal place to rent (or buy!) a cabin, but there's a private campground that is pretty nice too. You'll spend your day relaxing on white sand beaches then retreat to the forest to sleep among giant old growth trees... it's like a mini vacation from your vacation, and exactly what your road-weary legs have been begging for.

Returning from the reveries of Savary, it's a quick ride back to Powell River to hop on a ferry over to Vancouver Island. If you're arriving later in the day there's a nice campground only 5 minutes away at Kin Beach Provincial Park, where tenters get to set up in an idyllic grove of trees far away from the other campers. Or if you caught an earlier ferry simply head to Comox or Courtenay to grab a bite before continuing on.

Exploring Vancouver Island in the summer just feels so exceedingly pleasant. I don't know if it's the filtered light or the fragrant sun-drenched forests or the golden fields or what, but my body feels all tingly and languid and rejuvenated just thinking about it. Plus, biking on the east coast of Vancouver Island is almost nothing like that on the Sunshine Coast: it is very very flat.

Soak up the old growth forests at Rosewall Creek, stroll the endless beaches in Qualicum at low tide, spend a night at Rathtrevor Provincial Park, drop in at Neck Point or Pipers Lagoon. If time permits, additional side trips await: Denman & Hornby Island, Englishman Falls, or take a couple extra days and extend your trip down to Victoria and Sooke and the Saanich Peninsula. Or if you've really developed the taste for bike touring, continue south to Mexico. Why not?